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A survey of more than 1,000 American consumers found that 74% of people believe contacting customer support is a frustrating experience. Reaching out to a contact center can be so frustrating, that 44% of customers would rather clean a bathroom, 25% would rather sit in traffic, and 24% would rather do their taxes, according to the survey.
Poor experiences have created a negative perception of contact centers among consumers. However, brands who value lifetime customers can set themselves apart by doing exactly what competitors struggle with: delivering a great experience when customers reach out to their contact center. To help improve your customer support and deliver great experience, we’ve created this guide of best practices for your contact center including tips for specific industries.
Learn everything you need to know including what a contact center is, how it’s different from a call center, important metrics for contact centers to track, and best practices to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your contact center for 2022 and beyond.
A contact center is a business department whose responsibility is to manage all customer interactions across all channels, both digital and non-digital. This includes providing support through phone, email, chat, SMS, social media, and more. The purpose of a contact center is to meet customers wherever they prefer to interact — and in some cases, this may involve moving between channels. For example, a customer may send an email request in the morning, but then wish to continue the interaction over social media later in the day. A good digital contact center will provide a seamless experience, so the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves each time they engage with the brand.
In fact, we found that 62% of consumers want to be able to engage with brands across several digital channels, and 77% of consumers want brands’ internal teams to communicate so the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves. This is a major challenge, as over three-quarters of brands said they struggled to create a cohesive journey across channels and devices.
The terms “contact center” and “call center” are often used interchangeably, but they’re far from the same thing. Generally, call centers are much more limited than contact centers, as they only manage customer interactions over the phone. Contact centers are broader in scope, as they manage inquiries that come in through all channels. For this reason, the customer engagement and service industries are typically coming to see call centers as outdated. Modern businesses are expanding their support options to create better, more fluid customer experiences, and in most cases, this means ditching the call center in favor of the much more flexible and efficient contact center.
Before diving into the contact center best practices, management should determine which metrics and KPIs to monitor. Here are a few important contact center metrics that many brands use, though you should create custom goals tailored for your brand:
Response time: The average time it takes to respond to a customer inquiry
Abandonment rate: The percentage of customers who end their inquiry before a resolution is reached
Average handle time: The average amount of time spent resolving each inquiry
Resolution rate: The rate at which your brand resolves customer inquiries
Customer satisfaction: The measure of whether a customer was satisfied with their contact center experience, and to what degree. This may involve several customer experience metrics such as CSAT, NPS, and CES.
Regardless of your industry, here are some contact center best practices that can help you deliver great service and an exceptional experience for your customers.
Your agents are customer-facing representatives for your brand, so put time and resources into hiring candidates who align with your brand values and have the right skills, both tangible and intangible. Look for candidates who show patience, good listening abilities, effective communication, and empathy. Not all of these skills can be taught, so contact center managers should take the time to thoroughly screen potential candidates. Of course, even individuals with a natural ability for customer service should be trained well to ensure they’re adequately prepared before handling customer inquiries on their own.
As noted earlier, your brand should identify important metrics that are relevant to its contact center, then establish goals to track progress over time. For example, your brand may establish a goal to improve the contact center’s average response time from one hour to 45 minutes by the end of the year. Doing this also helps you break down long-term goals into achievable steps, such as reducing the average response time by 5 minutes each month until the desired outcome is reached. Furthermore, contact center metrics will help you determine what’s going well and what needs a greater focus.
One of the best ways to improve contact center effectiveness and efficiency is to invest in the right technology. As the world moves away from call centers and into digital-first customer engagement, it’s important for brands to have a contact center solution built with digital service in mind.
Modernizing your contact center can improve satisfaction and dramatically reduce support costs.
Increase customer satisfaction by connecting all of your channels into one platform to provide omnichannel support. Additionally, reduce response times and costs by increasing agent efficiency through automated workflows. For example, implementing self-service solutions like AI-chatbots and online communities can help deflect call volume by enabling customers to resolve inquiries on their own. Doing so allows agents to spend less time answering the same questions, and more time providing care for people with unique inquiries. Beyond giving agents more time, the right contact center technology can also help them work more effectively by leveraging AI-powered assistants that analyze customer sentiment and provide suggested responses.
These are just a few of the ways a digital-first contact center can help your business. Request a demo of our software to learn more and see for yourself.
Agents may spend a large portion of time answering the same common questions again and again, which limits their efficiency. In fact, a McKinsey report found one company had 2,000 reasons for customers to contact their contact center, but just 60 of those inquiries accounted for 65% of the total volume. This is exactly where an AI chatbot or online community can help. With these solutions, brands can empower their customers to find solutions to their own problems, improving customer satisfaction and agent efficiency simultaneously.
In one example, Khoros customer Schneider Electric used its online community of 20,000 unique monthly visitors to resolve 90% of questions in less than 24 hours.
This benefits customers and agents, as customers get answers quickly and agents don’t get bogged down by repetitive inquiries.
Some cases may warrant a customer speaking with a supervisor instead of an agent, such as when the agent doesn’t have an answer or if the customer is deemed a VIP based on their account size or influence. It's important to establish an escalation chain for these scenarios so agents know when to hand customers off to someone else, and who that person should be.
Contact center managers should continuously monitor volume to ensure agents don’t get overwhelmed during spikes, which can lead to long response times and upset customers. For example, during the holiday season, support volume requests often increase by as much as 65%. Monitoring volume to anticipate these spikes can help contact centers prepare and respond before the customer experience gets negatively affected.
Collecting customer feedback after each support interaction is essential for gauging satisfaction with your contact center. Furthermore, collecting feedback shows customers you value their opinions and are actively listening to find opportunities for improvement.
However, brands need to make sure they’re collecting both solicited and unsolicited feedback. Solicited feedback from surveys has value, but doesn’t give the full picture of the customer experience. To get unsolicited feedback, you’ll need to utilize social listening to analyze what customers are saying on social media, online forums, and in reviews.
Beyond the general contact center best practices above, we’ve also outlined some best practices for specific industries.
The financial services and insurance industries often deal with sensitive personal and financial information, so contact centers need to be equipped to deal with heightened security concerns. For example, customers may be uncomfortable sharing this information over the phone where it can be overheard by others, so brands need to ensure their contact centers offer the ability to discuss details over other channels. Secure forms can be a huge advantage for brands who want to keep customer information safe without adding unnecessary customer effort. Alternatively, some customers may prefer to take advantage of self-service solutions so they never have to share this sensitive information with another person.
For brands in the telecommunications industry, outages and issues can result in customers who are unable to communicate with others, do their job, or enjoy home entertainment. Furthermore, customers may be limited in the way they can reach out to contact centers. If their internet is out, brands need to ensure customers can reach them by phone and likewise. Because of the urgency of these issues, telecommunication contact centers need to ensure they’re equipped to quickly respond to inquiries across all channels.
Enterprise technology and software brands understand and commonly use AI, ML, and automation in their products and services — but these brands should also integrate these tools into their contact centers to enhance customer care. Modern chatbot integrations and automated workflows can help improve the efficiency and experience of your contact center without increasing your costs.
Brands in the travel and hospitality industry often get an influx of high-stress and time-sensitive inquiries, such as customers needing a last-minute flight or hotel booking. In these scenarios, failure to respond quickly can lead customers to seek an alternative solution from a competitor. Thus, brands in this space need to ensure contact centers are equipped to provide fast responses. The first line of defense should be self-service solutions, but beyond that, contact centers should use queue prioritization to ensure urgent issues are dealt with first. Furthermore, during stressful interactions contact centers may benefit from using agent-assisted bots that can use ML to provide suggested responses and keep customers calm.
Retail and distribution contact centers typically see a high volume of inquiries related to order information, shipping status, and returns. While these requests are often simple, the quantity of these requests can take up a significant amount of agent resources. To prevent this from occurring, brands in these industries should utilize AI to automate the resolution of these inquiries so agents can focus on more complex questions.
If you’re looking for a way to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your contact center in 2022, Khoros can help.
Our enterprise contact center software can help transform your contact center for the digital age using AI-powered workflows and rich analytics, all while deflecting call volume and reducing support costs. To learn how, contact us for a demo today.